Winning the War for Talent

Winning the War for Talent

One of the many pleasures of living in Singapore is being able to experience an incredible diversity of architectural design. From the sweeping vista of Marina Bay to colonial period buildings like Raffles Hotel, and shop houses dating back to the 1840’s, there is no shortage of design to inspire the imagination while serving a functional purpose. Good job design should do the same – inspire and motivate while meeting the needs of the business. Unfortunately, too many jobs are designed with the same amount of imagination and attention to human motivation as the endless rows of concrete grey-green apartment buildings built across much of the Soviet Union in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Minimal functionality and zero inspiration.

Connecting Motivation and Job Design

Good job design defines roles, responsibilities, and measures of success to meet both organizational and individual needs – both material and psychological, and is a relatively recent practice. Until the later part of the 20th century, in most companies, change was essentially linear with tasks moving from one worker and department to another, and decision-making flowing up and down the organizational hierarchy. Thus, companies were able to scale in a predictable fashion. Strategic planning and process reengineering flourished, but job design was still under the influence of the early 20th century practices of Scientific Management: tasks were reduced to their lowest common denominator, then expanded upon with commensurate increases in pay as employees rose in the organizational hierarchy. Real change in approaches to job design began with the convergence of team-based work, the human relations movement, IT the Internet, and globalization in the 1980’s.

Professors Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham’s work in the 1970’s and 1980’s on job characteristics was at the forefront of rethinking job design—and continues to influence today’s job design practices. Hackman and Oldham argued that employees derive motivation from completing a task and that people are motivated by their work when they consider the tasks to be meaningful; when they have enough discretion to plan and carry out the task as they see fit; and they get feedback on how effective they have been. Roles that meet those needs enhance employees’ intrinsic motivation, job satisfaction, quality of work and performance, while reducing turnover.

21st Century Job Design

Good job design today maximizes people’s energy and engagement in their work. As you define a role, make sure you consider both the content and context of that role. Role content includes the traditional job description items like objectives, responsibilities, and competencies and should also describe:

  • The range of skills and activities necessary to complete the job. The greater the range of skills a person uses, the more motivating the work.
  • The degree to which a job is holistic. People are more satisfied when they are involved in an activity from start to finish.
  • The degree of individual choice involved in a job. More autonomy, and decision-making involvement, leads to more satisfaction.

Too often this is where job design ends. Someone from HR may attempt to add creative flourishes they think will appeal to Millennial or Gen Z candidates along the lines of: Progressive, open-minded employer seeks Ninja coder who wants to join our Avenger Team, and then posts a job description.

What’s missing is the hiring leader or team thinking through and describing the role context. Context matters as much as the job-content specifics, and should include:

  • Why the team exists.
  • Clearly articulated team values.
  • The important relationships upon which success depends.
  • How feedback will be regularly gathered and communicated.
  • The purpose of the role in terms of impact and influence and adding real value to colleagues, the organization, or the larger community.

Spending time describing the context of the role is powerful because it encourages the hiring manager and team to talk about what makes the team or organization attractive to candidates and adds a powerful dimension to the selection process. Speaking with candidates about context dimensions such as values and relationships increases the probability of attracting and retaining likeminded people. If you’ve built a ‘no jerks allowed’ culture, then any talented wolves in the guise of sheep are on notice from the first conversation.

Winning the War for Talent

While most people need a job, everyone wants to find work in which they find some purpose. Organizations and leaders who understand that inspiring job design is a blend of content and context are far more successful at attracting the right people – people who are a great fit for their organization. Those people, in turn, are more likely to be loyal, engaged, and committed to excellence. No one crafts an extraordinary team or organization from people who feel like they’ve been part of a job lottery. The path to extraordinary is paved with clarity of purpose and values, inspiring individual motivation, and developing strong, trusting relationships on and across teams. Inspiring job design is central to matching the needs of the organization with the needs and motivations of the person. Get that right and your hiring and retention challenges will become a thing of the past.


This article is based upon excerpts from my book, Team Relationship Management: The Art of Crafting Extraordinary Teams

The One Habit blog is brought to you by Xmetryx – the leader in Team Relationship Management software tools and services for team leaders.

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